Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Planning gains fiasco at Glenfield!

Everybody's favourite council is back in the headlines for all the usual reasons. Fecklessness, incompetence, pointlessness...

Leicestershire County Council, the well-known low-interest unsecured loans business, has handed back £900,000 in planning gains to hard-pressed developers. Why? Because these 'gains' must be spent within a certain period of time. It's a long period because some big developments are complicated and take time to come to fruition. There's only one other condition - that the donations are necessary to offset the impact of the development, which is sensible and prudent, otherwise they would just look like backhanders.

So the need existed - was established and proven through the planning inquiry system - it was just that Leicestershire County Council, so busy doing nothing in so many other areas, just didn't get to doing anything about it. So now the need will go on being unmet, for the foreseeable future. Nice work, guys!

Friday, March 16, 2018

More on the Northamptonshire loan

Readers will recall me waxing lyrical last week on Leicestershire County Council's best-buddy loan of £5 million to poor old Northamptonshire County Council. Just seven days later comes the devastating Best Value Report into NCC and its works commissioned by Communities Minister Sayed Javid.

Those with strong stomachs can click here for all the gory details. For hardened horror fans I recommend the appendix case study about Olympus Care Services in which the Council manages to fall out with its own pretend business.

The report's conclusions are stark: "The problems faced by NCC are now so deep and ingrained that it is not possible to promote a recovery plan that could bring the council back to stability and safety in a reasonable timescale [4.16]." "To change the cultural and organisational ethos and to restore balance ... would take of the order of 5 years and require a substantial one-off cash injection. Effectively, it would be a reward for failure. ... A way forward with a clean sheet, leaving all the history behind, is required. [4.17]"

The report writers propose total abolition in 2020 and replacement with two unitary councils made up of the seven districts and boroughs. In the meantime, the Minister is urged to impose direct rule.

The 'history' is quite something. Scrutiny that is not allowed to scrutinise, audit that is not given full facts. A £21.1 million overspend already this financial year. Total financial incompetence. For example, consider the council's approach to financial management - "sloppy, lacking rigour and without challenge [3.66]."

It gets worse. When he heard about the Best Value inspection, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, Michael King, felt obliged to write to the inspectors - something that's almost unheard-of. What did he have to say? "...that NCC was one of the most difficult authorities the Ombudsman had engaged with both in the terms of time taken to respond in the course of investigations but also in the authority's approach to complaint handling, learning from mistakes and remedying injustice [3.87]."

That's right, they flatly refuse to listen to tribunals, their external auditors and their fellow councils. Any self-respecting elected member would resign forthwith on receiving this level of condemnation. We can take it for granted they won't. Indeed, they haven't. The Minister will have to abolish the council from under them and even then they will simply stand again for the new unitary authorities. For incompetence that goes above and beyond, for wilful and persistent negligence in ignoring the facts, there should be special punishments. Those responsible should be banned from public service for a period reflecting their level of responsibility.

And as for Leicestershire County Council... Everybody in local government must have known there was an investigation under way. Why didn't they wait for the outcome before dipping into our pockets? Northamptonshire is going to disappear in 2020 at the latest. Are their successor bodies going to be held responsible for their debts? No, why should they be? How could they be?

But, fear not, our £5 million has not been spent entirely in vain. There is a lesson here for our county councillors if they choose to read it. You know how LCC is always banging on about how little funding they get from the government? Well NCC tried that one too. The inspector's response?

"The whole point of a funding formula, however inadequate its basis, is to reflect different needs [3.8]."


Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Cash-strapped County Council enters the dodgy loans business

When Sandra told us last night that she'd heard Leicestershire County Council were loaning Northamptonshire £5 million at nominal interest, I couldn't believe it. But here's the proof - and it's even worse than it sounded.

They're closing children centres and abandoning libraries. They've long since been stripped of schools and flogged off care homes. But obviously they can still 'loan' £5 million to their Tory mates on a neighbouring County Council that is to all intents and purposes bankrupt as well as pointless.

The reason? If Northants actually went bankrupt the government would be the biggest loser. Sorry, that sounds like a win-win to me. It's not as if the people of Northamptonshire would lose out because they already pay through the nose for nothing.

The best bit? The money isn't coming from reserves, money that's sitting in the account doing nothing. It's coming from the revenue account - day to day income and expenditure. It's another £5 million in cuts with the vague possibility of repayment some day. Far better to have an each-way punt on the Grand National.

The best deal for everyone in the shires would be for county councils to be abolished forthwith and their powers given to larger, probably combined, unitary districts. That was our Labour policy at the County elections last year, but somehow Leicestershire still elected these people.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Conservative Achievements.

I return home to find that the Conservatives have posted a card showing their local team, and saying how much they care about you here in Lutterworth. I assume most of you have received the same. They failed to list their achievements on your behalf, so I thought I might help them out.
They have taken the De Verdon Road allotments and left the Town Council with a bill for £225,000 to replace them. They will make about £5m from the site (the exact figure is 'commercially sensitive'), and at this point have not offered the Town any form of compensation.
They closed the Town's toilets with 24hrs notice, leaving us to pick up the tab; whilst keeping those in Market Harborough open using £100,000 of 'Special Expenses'. We kept them open because we felt that any civilised community ought to have public conveniences.
Of the £30,000 that Lutterworth pays in Special Expenses annually they have failed to account for (literally) £10,000. In my time as a Councillor that adds up to £100,000 that we do not know what it was spent on, despite submitting an FOI on which they failed to meet two legal dealines.
The removal of the universal Green Bin collection.
The alteration of a perfectly good parking scheme to something that most are agreed is a backward step.
Against a strong local campaign, erected a Panda crossing on the Leicester Road. The joke now is that they could have saved money by not installing the red and amber bulbs as they are never used.
Councillors Chapman and Hammond have attended 3 out of a possible 54 LTC meetings since their election. They are not obliged to attend these meetings, but it is one sure way for them to gauge local feeling. Councillor Page goes out of her way to try to attend these meetings.
Councillors Chapman and Ackerley did not attend the recent Magna Park hearing. They may, of course had pressing personal reasons for not doing so, and in that case I apologise. This is the single biggest planning issue ever to face HDC let alone Lutterworth, and it will have devastating effects on the local area; yet the Councillor with the nearest Ward is not there. Not only that a total of 11 out of the 33 Councillors found more important events to be at on that evening.
Even when they managed to get this phase called in they managed, as far as Lutterworth is concerned, to call in the wrong bit.  The  Symmetry application will come much closer to the Town, and remains a problem for Semelab.
Incidentally, by passing the first two phases of the Magna Park extension, the HDC Planning committee voted to increase traffic flow through an Air Quality Management Zone. This is one on Lutterworth High Street that they created in 2009, and have done nothing about ever since.
They have also failed to protect the seperation zone between Magna Park and Lutterworth,. This is a result of their failure to produce a Five Year Housing Plan. An estate of over 200 house is now to be built at the end of Coventry Road. It could now been open season for developers on that stretch, much of which is owned by a London Property Developer.
This is your Conservative Council; as they put it, 'A team that care about you and your family'

Monday, January 22, 2018

From our Euro MP

Rory Palmer MEP has now served 100 days as our latest East Midlands MEP. Members here in Lutterworth and Blaby will remember the amount of canvassing Rory did during Amanda's General Election campaign in 2015.

Rory says:

"I made my maiden speech in the European Parliament on the important issue of mental health and tackling stigma. This will be a key area of my work in the coming months and I am pleased to be part of the Mental Health Europe Coalition in the European Parliament.

"I've been appointed to the Parliament's Environment, Health & Food Safety Committee where I lead for Labour on health policy. I am doing a lot of work on the health and NHS implications of Brexit."

[CLICK HERE to read Rory's article for the New Statesman on the damage done by the loss of the European Medicines Agency from London.]

Rory continues:

"I'm a member of the Employment & Social Affairs Committee where I am leading for the Social Group in the Parliament on two reports - one on gender equality in the media, and another on supporting people back to work from illness and injury.

"Before becoming an MEP I was supporting the TUC's Dying to Work campaign which aims to secure stronger employment rights for people with a terminal illness. I am now leading this campaign in the European Parliament and have set up a new MEP group to take this important campaign forward at EU level.

"On my first day as an MEP I launched my #ErasmusFuture campaign to keep the UK in Erasmus. I want young people from our region and across the country to benefit from these opportunities in the future."

[CLICK HERE to read an article by Rory on Erasmus. CLICK HERE to sign Rory's petition.]

The NHS staff on the inside of the crisis.